Rockets-Thunder 1st Round Preview and Predictions

The NBA Playoffs are finally here and we couldn't be more excited for it at Red Nation Hoops. This year, the 3rd seeded Houston Rockets will be matched up with 6th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in one of the more compelling first round series. National media from far and wide have traveled to Houston to come see and cover what is being portrayed as "MVP vs. MVP" as Russell Westbrook and James Harden look to be the top 2 vote getters for the Most Valuable Player award this year.

In light of all this intrigue and excitement, we decided to get the entire staff together in a roundtable-like discussion to answer some key questions about this series and give our official predictions.


(3) Rockets Vs. (6) Thunder


Explain your pick.

Salman Ali: This was tough. I could quite frankly see this series go a lot of different ways. The only thing I truly ruled out was a sweep because when you have a player as good as Russell Westbrook, you always have the potential to steal a game. The Rockets have been a much better team all season and a lot of projection models have this as being the most predictable series so I just kind of went with my gut.

Jorge Flores: The Rockets are the superior team in this series. There's no question about that. But, aside from a 12-point win in their last meeting, every regular season game between these two teams was decided by three points or less. Clearly, OKC plays the Rockets well, and it's easy to think they can win two games... or worse.

Taylor Pate: The shooting the Rockets are capable of is going to be too much to handle. The Rockets were 3-1 against the Thunder in the regular season and honestly, their wins could have all been blowouts. James Harden probably won't be waiting until the 6 minute mark to come in and that makes a big difference in the 4th quarter.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The Thunder can't score with Houston and James Harden can take plays off on defense guarding Andre Roberson.

Forrest Walker: The Houston Rockets should win this series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and they should do it in six games. Will they, though? This is the bit that keeps getting stuck in my mental craw. I’m going to go with my head here and say Houston in six, but my gut tells me the Thunder will find a way to make this close if not win it outright.

Joshua Lewis: OKC hasn't been able to control the Rockets' frequent three point barrages for the most part of every matchup, and James Harden's ability to score and distribute will be too much for OKC to handle. They are not a good shooting team, and the Rockets will be able to get out in transition for easy layups and/or threes. Also, OKC does not have any positional matchups that they can take advantage of. Depth is also a key factor, as Houston is about 9 players deep.

Matthew Cardenas: The Rockets have more weapons on the offensive end. They can go small and take Steven Adams and Enes Kanter out of the series. The advantage the Rockets have over the Thunder on the perimeter will put them over the top. But, the games are going to be close. Three of the four matchups in the regular season were decided by three points or less.

Kyle Chilek: The Thunder just won't be able to keep up with the Rockets scoring, but I think their rebounding and excellent play in the Clutch will win them two games.

Trent Arnold: Houston won the regular season series 3-1, taking big leads at certain stages of each game. They let the foot off the gas on most occasions, but they showed that at their best it will be hard for the Thunder to match it with one of the most potent offenses in NBA history. If they can sustain intensity for the full 48 minutes there’s not a lot of doubt over who the better team is.

Who or what is the biggest ‘X-Factor’ in this series?

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Salman Ali: Clint Capela and Nene Hilario. Steven Adams is a big, tough bruiser-type center that's going to be an irritant and really difficult to defend and box out. Capela has often struggled against big bruisers like this, but for this series, he's going to need to step up in that regard. As far as Nene, he's going to be key in stretches where Capela just can't handle Adams and they need a bigger body to defend post-ups.

Jorge Flores: Eric Gordon. The Three-Point Contest Champion hasn't exactly been lights out since hoisting up that trophy in New Orleans. Also, Gordon only has four games of Playoff experience, so it'll be interesting to see how he steps up his game.

Taylor Pate: My X-Factor is Ryan Anderson. His return to the lineup has shown a rejuvenated 3-point shot and that alone can keep the Rockets above water. Anderson has the ability to stretch the Thunder bigs out of the paint, which makes James Harden's Swiss Army Knife that much sharper.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The X factor is Eric Gordon. Houston win if he makes his 3s.

Forrest WalkerAs with every game he’s involved in, the X-Factor in this series is Russell Westbrook. He can shoot his team into - or out of - any given game. Over the course of the season he’s done a lot of both and there seems to be no way to predict it. The Rockets just have to hope he’s not in overdrive the whole time.

Joshua Lewis: Ryan Anderson. With Ryno's scoring punch, the Thunder will have no answer to the plethora of three point threats that the Rockets have on the court at all times. Consistency is key.

Matthew Cardenas: Lou Williams. He’s been a little inconsistent since coming to Houston, and he has the chance to find a rhythm in this series. He could single-handedly win a game in this series. His scoring will also give a more balanced attack from both the starters and the bench unit.

Kyle Chilek: The biggest X-Factors are the two sixth men, EG and Lou. If the Rockets are able to dominate the non-Westbrook minutes, they should be able to win comfortably, but if not every game will be a tooth and nail fight.

Trent Arnold: For me, the biggest X-Factor in this series is Patrick Beverley. To beat the Thunder, Houston needs to slow down Westbrook and compete on the boards. Patrick Beverley is the guy who can bring a dogged attitude and intensity that will contribute to nullifying the team's two biggest threats. A well-rested Nene will also play a big part in this series.

What would you consider the most important statistic in this series and why?

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Salman Ali: 3-PT Percentage. The Rockets have to make their 3s in order to maintain the biggest advantage they have over OKC. It's really that simple.

Jorge Flores: Three-Pointers Made. The phrase "live by the three, die by the three" could not better describe the 2016-2017 Houston Rockets. In the regular season the Rockets were essentially unbeatable when they made at least 15 threes (36-5), but they can't really beat anybody when they hit less than 10 (1-8). As long as the Rockets hit their average of 14 threes per game, they should have no problem advancing to the second round.

Taylor Pate: The most important statistic is...TRIPLE DOUBLES. All joking aside, the Thunder were 33-9 when Russell Westbrook recorded a triple double. The Thunder perform better when he gets a triple double. The caveat is that stat hunting shouldn't be as important for the Brodie in the postseason, so there's a chance we get a methodical, under control Russell Westbrook. Then again, he's going to be guarded by Patrick Beverley and the history between the two may provide some fireworks.

Paul Michie-Derrick: 3-PT Percentage. If the Rockets make their 3s, they'll win.

Forrest WalkerThere’s only one stat that really matters in this series: three point shooting. If the Rockets can shoot at or above 35% on three point attempts, they’ll win. If not, they’re liable to lose. This was the most important factor for the Rockets in the regular season, so expect it to stay that way in the playoffs.

Joshua Lewis: James Harden has been held to just 23% from three against OKC this year (and just 35% FG), mainly due to the defensive pressure by Thunder forward Andre Roberson. If James can get in the flow early, taking easy shots and not forcing things, he'll be able to control the pace of the game with ease. If his teammates are able to knock down shots that he sets them up with, he'll receive more room to operate and attack.

Matthew Cardenas: The fact that three of the four matchups in the regular season were decided by three or less points. The little things are what is going to make the difference in this series. It’s all about which team can make the least mistakes. A few mistakes down the stretch could cost the Rockets the series.

Kyle Chilek: The most important stat is defensive rebound rate. The Rockets are 21st in the league on the defensive glass and are up against the best offensive rebounding team. Limiting possessions against a defense first team without a whole lot of scoring is crucial.

Trent Arnold: The most important statistic in this series is Russell Westbrook's True Shooting percentage. One of the reasons the Thunder are a below average offense is because Westbrook uses so many possessions at a level well below most elite offensive players. If Russ uses 45-50% of the team's possessions at an average or below average rate, there’s no chance this Thunder team scores well enough on a per possession basis to match it with the Rockets' elite offense.
Most important player in this series?

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Salman Ali: James Harden. Isn't it always? In order for the Rockets to make this a short series, James Harden has to be James Harden. Andre Roberson is a tough, long defender that's bothered Harden in the past, but he has to adjust accordingly.

Jorge Flores: James Harden. Harden has struggled against OKC this year, but the Rockets will be just fine as long as he can play close to the ridiculous standards he's set for himself this year.

Taylor Pate: The most important player in this series is going to be Eric Gordon. His season has been streaky since January, but when he's hitting from deep, the Rockets are nearly unbeatable. Harden will be Harden. Brodie will be Brodie. It's the role players that matter here.

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